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Two Flames

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Girls nights were all well and good, but there was still the unfortunate matter of Tony Stark. Maria wasn't entirely sure if Pepper and Tony were still together, because Pepper was being very tight-lipped about the whole thing. It wasn't like they discussed romance much at work, either. They had much more important matters than Pepper's love like, as much as Maria would like to know what was going on.

She told herself it was silly, though. Being friends with Pepper was already nice enough, and to preserve their relationship, Maria knew she needed to compartmentalize her attraction to the strawberry blonde. She was married to her work, essentially, and for all she knew, Pepper was happily in love with Tony and would stay that way forever.

Regardless, Tony Stark was incredibly irritating, whether he was romantically involved with Pepper or not.

Maria supposed it was his company, technically, but that didn't make it any less annoying when Tony waltzed into her office, acting like he was the authority on all things security. No one could deny the man was intelligent, but Maria had exactly zero tolerance for being talked down to. She wished Tony was as scared of her as he was of Natasha. She had a specific creepy grin she liked to give him when she wanted him to leave, and Maria marveled at her ability to make him look like he was about to piss himself. She was wishing she had access to that grin now.

Hey, Maria.” Oh, great.

Hill will do just fine.” Maria's tone was icy as she looked up at Tony, who had approached her desk. She hoped this would be short.

The ice queen hasn't melted. Gotcha.” Tony made an expression that could only be described as 'yeesh.' “I just came to ask if you've seen Pepper anywhere, that's all.” Even though there was nothing wrong with Tony's request, Maria still bristled on the inside, unable to stop the wave of jealousy. Grow up, Hill. She's not yours, she's nobody's.

She's in a meeting. Which you would know if you paid attention to the company calendar.” Maria gave Tony a look, wishing she could force him out of the office with her eyes alone. Tony laughed a little.

Oh, right, we do have that, don't we. I'll find her later, then.” Tony looked back at Maria and winked. “Give her a kiss from me.” Maria was very glad that Tony abruptly turned to go after the wink, because she couldn't help the way her face flushed and recoiled a little at the last sentence. Maria was an expert at cultivating her outer exterior, but apparently not where Pepper was concerned. She would need to work on that.

What did he even mean by that, anyway? Maria supposed she should take that as a sign that he and Pepper were still together, if he was sending her metaphorical kisses. It didn't make sense otherwise, and Maria doubted that Tony would encourage Maria to kiss Pepper for real. ...then again, he was probably the kind of person who thought it would be hot to watch. The thought made Maria wrinkle her nose in disgust as she returned to her work.

Thankfully, she wasn't interrupted the rest of the afternoon, and she would have worked overtime if it weren't for the person who showed up at her door toward the end of her day. She stifled a cringe, expecting Stark, but when she saw Natasha instead, a faint smile came over her features. That was a pleasant surprise.

Hey, you. Come to keep me from working myself to the bone?” There was one other person in the entire building that Maria would set down work for besides Pepper , and that was Natasha. It made her feel more than a little silly that she was attracted to two people at once, but if she was honest with herself, she probably had a better chance with Natasha than with Pepper. The two flames seemed to burn side by side, though, and she couldn't seem to get rid of either of them.

Pretty much. In the mood for dinner? Pepper's still busy, but I'm hungry. It doesn't sound like she's going to be out of that meeting any time soon, poor thing,” Natasha said, and Maria winced on her behalf. She set down her papers, standing. Natasha somehow managed to look incredibly good even in casual clothes, and she made herself look at Natasha's face instead of elsewhere.

I'm definitely in the mood for dinner. She'll probably have dinner with Tony, anyway.” Maria tried her best to keep the note of jealousy out of her voice, but apparently she didn't do that great of a job, because Natasha cocked an eyebrow. She didn't say anything about it, though, and gestured for Maria to follow her out of the office. Maria followed, grateful that Natasha wasn't going to ask her about that right now.

Are they still dating?” Natasha asked, once they were on their way to the redhead's living quarters. Goddamnit.

Hell if I know. Pepper doesn't talk about it.” Maria shrugged, trying to play it off like it didn't matter that much. From the way Natasha was looking at her, Maria had a feeling she knew exactly how much it mattered, and she hated that Natasha could read her that well.

I thought they were taking a break after that Extremis incident, but maybe the break's done now.” Natasha shrugged, mimicking Maria, and if Maria was correct in reading Natasha's face, it seemed like Natasha was just a little bothered about that too. We're both going to be alone in an apartment together, and we're still talking about Pepper. We're disasters.

I don't really pay attention, to be honest.” She wasn't being honest at all, and Natasha was giving her that look again.

Maria, I adore you to the moon and back, but you're a really bad liar.” Maria was about to protest being called a liar, but the first part of Natasha's sentence threw her for a loop, and she floundered for a moment. Since when did Natasha adore her? It seemed to be an accident that those particular words had slipped out, because Natasha suddenly looked like she wanted to slither out the door and not look back.

Okay, fine, I'm into Pepper. A little. What's it to you?” Maria said, mostly to diffuse the tension, but it didn't work very well. Natasha looked faintly relieved that Maria didn't comment on her choice of words, but the air still seemed to simmer between them.

Nothing. Just wanted to let you know that it's pretty obvious how you feel about her,” Natasha said, and Maria couldn't help but cringe. Natasha had always been exponentially better at hiding things than Maria, and Maria wasn't exactly surprised that she was doing a terrible job of hiding her feelings. It was still incredibly embarrassing, though. She wondered if Natasha had caught onto the attraction in her direction, too, if she was apparently so obvious.

How do you think I feel about you, then?” They were inside Natasha's living quarters now, the dinner long forgotten, and Maria couldn't quite look away from her. If Natasha was going to let embarrassing things slip out of her mouth, Maria supposed she might as well follow suit. That, and she wanted to turn the tables on Natasha, so she could be the flustered one for once.

Natasha watched her calmly for a moment, infuriatingly unruffled, but it took her forever to speak. This was beginning to backfire, and Maria imagined that she probably looked at least mildly panicked right now. She could handle terrifying weapons and malicious people, but anything like this? Not so much.

You're into me, too. At least, I'm pretty sure.” Natasha sounded a little uncertain, and Maria found it difficult to read her face, unsure if the attraction was reciprocated. She felt a faint warmth as her own cheeks flushed a little, though, and she was sure Natasha could see it.

Would it be a problem if I was?” Maria said finally, and Natasha's eyebrows raised a little.

I wouldn't want to steal you away from Pepper.”

I'm not Pepper's.”

Natasha considered this, and all Maria could concentrate on was her green eyes, boring into her. Natasha was dragging this out in an excruciating way, and it was becoming very apparent that they were both human disasters who were terrible at communicating.

All right,” Natasha said, and Maria waited for her to elaborate. Instead, Natasha stood up on her tiptoes, wrapping her arms around Maria's back and pulling her in for a kiss. Maria failed to react for a moment, stunned, and then when she regained her senses, she leaned into the kiss, trying her best to just go with it and not question what was happening.

They only broke apart when they needed to breathe, and somehow, Maria's hand had found its way into Natasha's hair, which was now pleasingly mussed. Natasha's face was flushed now, and both of them were a little out of breath.

I'm into Pepper too,” Natasha admitted, and Maria briefly felt a wild, entirely irrational flicker of hope for something impossible. “But we don't have to worry about that right now. That's for later.”

When Natasha's lips met hers again, Maria had to agree.